By Claire West

Over half (54%) of senior HR professionals in the UK are working in teams in which nobody has experience of dealing with trade union action, according to new research conducted by YouGov for Croner (www.croner.co.uk), the UK’s largest provider of workplace information and consultancy services, part of Wolters Kluwer.

The research also reveals that one in five senior HR professionals believe that trade union action is likely to affect their organisation in the next six months. Of these, 20% say that this activity is likely to have a “huge impact” on the organisation. A recent report by the BBC supports these findings, suggesting that many fear government spending cuts could be the precursor for mass strikes in the UK.

Carol Smith, Senior Employment Consultant at Croner commented on the findings, saying: “It is concerning that so many HR professionals feel under-prepared to deal with trade union activity, despite anticipating that it could have a significant impact on their organisations. However it is not surprising as it is a long time since we have been in a similar economic climate. As a consequence it is the first time that many HR people increasingly have had to think about or deal with industrial action.”

Almost two-thirds (63%) of the survey respondents say they know little or nothing about the current laws on trade unions, and 40% say they do not feel confident dealing with union action. “This survey shows that the HR sector recognise a shortfall in their knowledge and expertise and the need to take steps to understand and be confident on the laws surrounding industrial action and management of industrial relations. Employers should be offering support through training and education programmes to assist HR professionals and ensure that sectors of UK plc do not come to a standstill if the predicted rise in trade union action occurs,” remarked Carol.

Government figures suggest that there are seven million members of trade unions in the UK, and TUC general secretary Brendan Barber recently advised supporters to fight the government's cuts programme, calling on members to campaign and mobilise for national demonstrations. Many people fear this could result in regular strikes and other workplace action, which would pose legal, financial and management issues for HR teams.

“Personnel professionals are at the forefront of dealing with the legalities of industrial action as well as managing the impact on staff productivity and morale. This is why it is so crucial that organisations implement training programmes for their HR staff and ensure that they remain up-to-date on the laws on industrial relations and trade unions.”